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Doug Ford Delivers Majority Government for Ontario PC Party

After twenty-eight days of a sometimes bruising campaign, Ontarians have voted for a new government after fifteen years of Liberal leadership under Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne.

Premier-designate Doug Ford will now form the next government of Ontario, bringing home a win after four previous Progressive Conservative tries – 23 years less-a-day since Mike Harris and Mr. Ford’s father first won election.

The standings in the 42nd Legislative Assembly at midnight were: PCs 76, NDP 39, Liberals 7 and the Green Party with 1, electing leader Mike Schreiner in Guelph.

As anticipated, the Ontario PCs were able to win their majority by winning big in the Greater Toronto Area. Doug Ford is also the first PC leader to win seats in a general election in the City of Toronto since 1999. The PCs also performed well in Eastern and Southwestern Ontario.

Every region of the province has representation in the new Ford government, and many of the PC ridings were part of the redistribution of seats where there was no clear incumbent – and where they were able to capitalize on the Liberal collapse.

Despite the incredible upheaval in the political environment across parties over the past several months, no more so than within the PC Party, once the election was called, many Ontarians had already made up their minds about the Liberals.  Andrea Horwath and the NDP clearly benefitted from this choice as progressive voters moved to her energetic campaign.

Unfortunately for the NDP, this support was not spread widely enough to bring them to power. The PC vote was extremely hard, and despite numerous attacks, did not shake loose. In addition, PC voters polled prior to election day indicated a long history of voting in previous elections, compared to the NDP vote, and this is typically a pointer to intention to vote in an upcoming election. This reality, coupled with a strong ‘get-out-the-vote effort in the advance polls and on election day, helped propel the Tories to victory.

Ontario PC Party

While Doug Ford is seen by many as a polarizing candidate, Conservatives were able to capitalize on a strong base of support – decided and motivated voters that would support the Tories regardless of the campaign or leader as well as Ford’s appeal among many non-traditional PC supporters.  The PCs were able to solidify and expand that support by appealing to voters who were seeking relief and looking for a party/leader who understood the challenges they were facing.

Over the last days of the campaign, the PC campaign (especially on social media) created a clear contrast between their Cabinet-ready team of candidates and the untested NDP candidates.  This enabled the Tories to reduce the impact of Andrea Horwath, the NDP’s greatest strength. Voters that did not form the core base of support for Doug Ford – and who may have harboured doubts about him – likely set aside their concerns and were confident in the ability of the PCs to form a strong, competent government.

There was a lot of discussion during the campaign about the desire of the electorate for change.  Premier-designate Doug Ford was able to articulate a vision of change that resonated with regular “folks” as he reinforced every day during the campaign.  His campaign slogan, “For the People” was successful in presenting Ford as representing the best interests of “regular people” – which was what really mattered in this election.

Although there may be doubts about the financing of the PC plan as well as Ford’s perceived populist policies, his platform of more accountability and better governance captured the right aspirations for voters who felt that the previous government’s spending was not producing outcomes that benefited the vast majority of the population, while making life less affordable.

Transition work has already begun and the PC team will need to shift gears quickly to look towards building a Cabinet.  Some have suggested Ford will move to a much smaller Cabinet of around fifteen.  This will likely include former rivals Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney, new blood such as Rod Phillips and Peter Bethlenfalvy, and stalwarts like Vic Fedeli, Lisa MacLeod and Laurie Scott.

Expect the rumour mill to run overtime as the Cabinet-making game is extremely popular with pundits and politicos from across the spectrum – but those who have been there know that until the swearing-in ceremony, nothing is final.

Finally, we anticipate that a PC government will take a comprehensive and careful analysis across government to identify important reforms needed for government policy and agencies.  This government will not be afraid to challenge the status-quo established by the previous government and within the civil service – and expect a thorough audit of the books as Mr. Ford has promised.

New Democratic Party

For the first time in her career, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has achieved the honour of becoming the Leader of the Opposition.  In this election, the NDP set out to achieve the electoral equivalent of getting a cat video to go viral.

While the party could count on its largest war chest ever, it could not count on strong local organizations or the electoral muscle memory required to deliver victory in at least 63 ridings.

To compensate, the NDP set out an ambitious plan to create an optimistic wave of change similar to what the 2011 Orange Wave in Quebec, Rachel Notley’s win in Alberta, or the Trudeau Liberals were able to tap. There were two elements of this plan:

  • first, a huge ad buy on-line and in high-visibility times on television to introduce Horwath to Ontarians and frame the choice for “change-ready” voters as being between her and Ford; and
  • second, an ambitious leader’s tour that would buoy local campaigns, primarily in Liberal and Conservative held ridings in Toronto, the 905, southwestern Ontario and the North.

The second and third weeks of the campaign saw the plan at work, with the party’s standing exploding in public opinion polls from 30% to over 40% support as voters warmed to Horwath and her positive vision for reinvestment in services and new programs like drug, dental and child care. During these weeks, the party capitalized on a spike in requests for signs, volunteers, and donations.

By most objective standards, the party ran a modern, textbook campaign. The leader’s tour events used Horwath well by putting her within excited, energetic crowds, which clearly grew as NDP momentum moved upward.   However, as NDP support grew, the party had to switch into a defensive posture to refute attacks on its candidates and the party’s record in government of 25 years ago under Bob Rae.

By doubling its seat count, the party has made a solid breakthrough and firmly established itself as the Official Opposition.

Ontario Liberal Party
As it became clear within days after it started, the Election 2018 ballot question became about “which party best represents change?”  After fifteen years of Liberal rule, it became almost impossible for Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals to best represent that answer to that question.  Almost immediately, progressive voters began shifting their vote away from Wynne and towards the NDP.

The Liberals tried to change the channel during the final Leaders’ debate with their “sorry, not sorry” risky gambit, perhaps taking a cue from Justin Trudeau’s 2015 federal campaign where he directly challenged Conservative attacks that he was “just not ready”.  Unlike Trudeau, the Wynne gambit came across as unapologetic for the very policies and decisions on which the Liberal Party had been criticized by the other two mainstream parties.

While the next few years will test voters’ approval of the new government, the Ontario Liberal party will have to be focused on rebuilding support with progressive voters, starting with the election of a new leader now that Kathleen Wynne has resigned.

It’s clear that Andrea Horwath’s support has come mostly from voters who have been Liberal supporters in the past.  Liberals will be hoping that such a leader will provide a re-birth to the Party and its support base, as Justin Trudeau has done federally.

A new leader will face a big challenge over the next four years to rebuild the party’s organization, fundraising and base, but one can never count out the Liberal Party.  They have a number of experienced individuals who will work hard to see the party rise again from this defeat.

Transition and Timing

While many stakeholders will want to “get in the door” at the earliest opportunity to see a new Minister and their staff, the reality is that transition planning and building a government takes more time than most think.

In 2003, the McGuinty Liberals took twenty-one days between election day and the swearing-in of the new government.  For Mike Harris’ Progressive Conservatives in 1995, it was eighteen days, and for Bob Rae’s NDP in 1990, it was twenty-five days.  Expect a similar amount of time between June 7 and the swearing in of the new Ford government.

But transition isn’t just about Cabinet-making.  It’s a complex process that involves a great deal of decision-making in a short period of time.  It will involve a number of people, including advisors from outside the campaign team, who may have previous political, public service and transition experience.

In addition to determining which MPPs will be part of a Cabinet, the Premier-designate must determine who will be his key political staff in the Premier’s office, including a Chief of Staff, Principal Secretary, Director of Policy, and Director of Communications.

The Premier-designate and his team will likely have great influence over who will serve as chief political staff in key Ministerial offices.  Staffing-up of these offices can take days or sometimes weeks as they are often recruited from similar partisan circles across the province and country.

The Premier-designate will have to make a decision on when to recall the legislature, when they will have their first Speech from the Throne, and what the contents of that speech will be – all of which will depend on how quickly the government wants or needs to move on key measures.

A new government will also typically appoint a new Cabinet Secretary to help refresh the upper echelons of the public service.  With these changes, stakeholders will likely see new faces at these levels and have new relationships to build.

The Cabinet Secretary and senior public service will have to brief the Premier-designate on several issues, including a road map on how to actually implement all the promises made by the winning party during the campaign.

Governing is complex, more so than campaigning.  It takes a lot of effort and time to build the organization to govern Ontario, and we will be watching the internal moves closely as Premier-designate Ford prepares to take power.

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